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Game Reviews

‘Super Mario Maker’ is a Brilliant Entry in the Super Mario Series

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Chances are, you’ve heard of Super Mario Maker by now, and you all have a pretty good understanding of what the game is all about. When handing over the keys to their magical Kingdom, Nintendo wisely took its time to make sure it got everything right – and they did. They also did an incredible job in marketing this game, going so far as to bringing back the Nintendo World Championship and launching a ludicrous marketing campaign that includes everything from a series of creative commercials, a new WiiU bundle, and an assortment of videos to give us an idea of what we could expect. Super Mario Maker is the fun, brilliant level editor Nintendo promised us last year, and so much more.

As the name might suggest, the game allows players to make their own Super Mario Bros. levels—specifically, levels that fit within the aesthetics of four games in the series: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and the recent New Super Mario Bros. series. Players can lay out every brick, tile, power-up, enemy, and warp pipe, and design levels in the style of each of the four Mario generations represented. Of course, everything still has to play by the rules of the Mario universe and nearly every component from the four franchise entries are present in Mario Maker’s creation mode. If you’ve seen it in one of those games, chances are you can add it to your creation via a user-friendly interface. If you want to make an enemy fly – or if you want to hide power-ups in bricks, you can. All you need to do is drag and drop these features from the editor’s menu. It’s as simple as that. There are of course rules and limitations. In other words, don’t expect to be able to add weapons, enemies or vehicles not found in the Super Mario universe — and don’t expect to be able to create a turn-based Mario RPG. And even within each generation of Mario gameplay, you are still restricted from using features found in other games: For example, while New Super Mario Bros. levels do support techniques like ground-pounds and wall-jumps, the original 8-bit look doesn’t allow for these specific features.

Perhaps my favourite component is the Mystery Mushroom which allows Mario to take the form of characters from other games such as Splatoon, Animal Crossing, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Sonic, and many more. There are an incredible 100 unique costumes and most are easily unlockable with amiibo. The new Anniversary 8-bit Mario amiibo will support super-sized characters while other existing figures from Nintendo’s intensely popular series of figurines are also largely supported. Scanning a toy brings the icon onto the screen and replaces Mario with a different little sprite. While in costume, you can push up on the D-pad to see an animation and hear sound effects relating to that very character. But don’t worry, not every single costume is amiibo-based and you don’t need amiibo to unlock each.

A wise move on the part of Nintendo (although somewhat controversial) was the decision to not give players every tool right away. When you first load the game, Super Mario Maker only gives players the basics and requires players to spend some time building with what they have before unlocking more features. The more you play, the more you unlock. The materials are divided into themes, encouraging aspiring designers to focus on, say, building a castle before trying their hand at underwater levels or ghost houses. Set packages of level design elements are unlocked with time although the specific timing of the unlocks seems a bit random; some take only minutes while others take hours to trigger a new delivery. Regardless, the decision to speed up the process is far more welcoming than the original nine-day wait Nintendo had initially planned. Over the course of a few days, you’ll be able to play with the game’s entire suite of level-making tools which call back to decades of Super Mario platformers. The novelty of these unlimited combinations makes for quite the spectacle, which is why Super Mario Maker is timeless. So as long as there is a console that is capable of playing the game, along with online support, players can continue to discover, play and create levels forever.

Super Mario Maker is not perfect, but pretty darn close

Creating levels can be a daunting task but what helps Super Mario Maker stand apart from other games, like LittleBigPlanet, is how easy it really is. Super Mario Maker keeps things simple by removing complicated elements like logic programming and features an incredibly accessible level construction kit that the whole family can easily enjoy. The tools themselves hide an array of secrets. If you shake a green Koopa it will turn red and if you shake a Lakitu, you’ll be left with only its cloud which Mario can ride. Add a mushroom to an enemy, and it’ll grow larger and place wings on an object and it will fly. The level editor also provides information detailing everything you need to know about how it operates making it easier both for players to understand a level and designers to realize their visions. Here is a game that anyone can play and anyone can create levels no matter what their level of gaming is. And it doesn’t take much time to wrap your mind around the editing tools because most of them are extremely straightforward. The well-designed interface makes learning easy and intuitive and features smart button-based shortcuts and simple controls. More importantly, Super Mario Maker isn’t limited to just making levels for a Super Mario platformer. The tools are flexible enough so that you can personalize your creations and add music, sound effects, and text. And once you are finished you can share your creations online with a passionate community of fans around the world.

Super Mario Maker isn’t just about creating levels — the game actually has two major components. There’s the creation suite, but there is also the play hub, where you can simply enjoy Mario Maker levels made by other people. There, you will find the “10 Mario Challenge,” used to serve up sample levels that ship as a part of the package. This mode gives players ten lives and challenges them to beat eight random levels made by Nintendo designers. Once you build a level, you can save it to your system and upload it to Nintendo’s servers where you can keep track of stats and feedback via notifications. The smartest move on Nintendo’s part, however, is forcing players to complete their levels before sharing them online. In other words, you can’t upload a level which is impossible, or beyond your own skills as a player to complete. Through curated lists, you can find and play other popular levels uploaded by other users. And did I mention the game’s online functionality works extremely well. Levels load in a matter of seconds and uploading your creations takes less than a minute to do. Meanwhile, the “100 Mario Challenge” allows you to play through up to 16 user-created stages with 100 lives in a mini-campaign from the maker community. You can also choose different difficulties, and the hard mode will unlock the moment you beat the normal mode. If a level is too difficult, a player can abort and swap it for another randomly selected stage. Even better, the lowest-rated levels will slowly be removed from the system, helping you dodge any terrible creations users upload online.

The only downside to Super Mario Maker is that the game restricts you to making single levels, as opposed to allowing the creation of entire worlds or your own Super Mario game. Having one level connect to the next would have been great but, unfortunately, this is not the case — which leads me to believe that this is only the beginning of a series of games that will expand on the toolkit and offer more features with each entry. Chances are, Nintendo will soon be working on a sequel for their next console.

Super Mario Maker provides an exceptional experience while offering insight into three decades of platforming brilliance

Since its launch in 2012, the Wii U has sold only 10 million units. Even the GameCube, Nintendo’s least successful console prior to Wii U, managed to sell more than 20 million units. Blame has been placed mostly on the console’s gamepad, which some people have described as nothing more than a gimmick. But if there is ever a reason for the gamepad to exist, Super Mario Maker is it. Without it, the game just wouldn’t be possible, and this makes me believe that Nintendo built the WiiU console with Super Mario Maker in mind.

To celebrate Super Mario’s 25th Anniversary, Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy 2, a solid entry in the Super Mario series, but not very different than its predecessor. With the 30th Anniversary upon us, Nintendo tried something new and has given us a game that celebrates three decades of Mario in one accessible, powerful creation suite. Super Mario Maker is not perfect, but pretty darn close and the best way to celebrate Mario’s 30th birthday. With an active and passionate community, Super Mario Maker could very well be the last 2D Mario platformer we ever need. There will always be more levels to play thanks to the online creation community, and an endless pool of challenges to overcome. Nintendo has just handed over their play box and it might just be the best gift they could ever give their loyal fanbase. Whether creating, exploring, watching others play and create, or just playing other people’s levels, Super Mario Maker provides an exceptional experience while offering insight into three decades of platforming brilliance.

Bravo!

– Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

Riverbond grass

There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

“[Earthnight is] an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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Game Reviews

‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off

The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.

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Life is Strange 2

Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.

Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.

Life is Strange 2

The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.

To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.

Life is Strange 2

In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.

On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.

By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.

Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.

Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.

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